OSAGE | “The biggest problem facing the dairy industry now is the price of milk,” Dr. Steve Schwarting, Osage Veterinarian, said. “We have so much milk now co-ops are telling producers they don’t want any more, because of over production.
Schwarting’s concern for his dairy clients goes beyond the health of their herds. “Two reasons for the increase in current milk production are cow numbers are up and milk production per cow is up, from a year ago, which has created too much milk,” he said. “Milk has been in the $16 to $18 per hundred pounds range and currently the price is going down.”
Schwarting, Dr. Nathan Bye, Dr. Dennis Riley and Dr. Ashlie Kolbet, partners in the Osage Veterinary Clinic, serve 55 dairy herds ranging in size from 40 to 250 cows in Mitchell County as well as in surrounding counties.
Though Schwarting is well versed in all aspects of the dairy industry, his greatest concern is for herd health. He said one of the major concerns for dairy farmers is lowering the Somatic-Cell-Count (SCC) in milk. White blood cell counts rise when a cow is fighting an infection such as mastitis and the SCC rises as well.
“When I first started, the SCC maximum allowable count was a million, then they cut it down to 750,000, and now it’s been cut to 400,000. Many of our herds are at 200,000 or less, and some of our herds are at 100,000 SCC, which is pretty low,” Schwarting said. “Co-ops pay a premium for lower SCC.”
“The biggest challenges with milking heifers and cows, comes in the first four weeks after they calve. At that time, cows are most susceptible to having mastitis, urinary infection or eating disorders,” Schwarting said. “Raising calves is also a real challenge. The first month is the most challenging for them. One of the major problems is calf scours.”
To offset the disease, a herdsman can vaccinate the cow four to eight weeks before she freshens, which will produce antibodies in the cow’s colostrum, which a nursing calf will consume the first couple of days after birth.
“Even if you have the greatest vaccines and colostrum, if the weather is cold, or foggy and wet, you still will have problems,” Schwarting said.
Pneumonia is another problem for young calves. “We have vaccines for that, which are getting better all the time. We have a couple of nasal vaccines that are very helpful,” Schwarting said. “Raising calves outdoors in hutches is much better because they are separated and can’t spread diseases, but for the farmer, it’s a challenge feeding calves outdoors, in all kinds of weather.”
He stated although automation has reduced labor, the health of a dairy herd still depends on a lot of personal daily contact between the herdsman and their animals. “One thing about dairy farming, animals still have to have a lot of individual care,” Schwarting said.
In regards to trends and new technology in the dairy industry, Schwarting said, “There is a trend toward grazing and organic milk production. We have had a few clients over the past few years who produce organic milk.”
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Schwarting said he believes there is room in the industry for tradition and non-traditional ways of producing milk.
“Today, farmers do a better job of producing the same amount of milk with fewer cows. I would guess milk production has increased from 5,000 to 8,000 pounds per 305 day lactation in the last 25 years. Today, most herds average from 18,000 to 27,000 pounds of milk per cow per lactation,” Schwarting said. “A lot of this increased production has to do with genetics, feed mixes, feed delivery systems and facilities. Nutrition has been huge in the last 20 years, because most cows aren’t out in pastures, but are kept inside.”
He also stated artificial insemination (AI) and the use of DNA testing has had a huge impact on dairy herd improvement.
“Today, you can pull blood samples from a heifer calf and send the sample in for DNA testing. That information can help determine how good a cow she will become,” he said. “If a dairyman has a 100 heifer calves, he can DNA test and then keep the top 60 heifers. It speeds up the herd’s genetics a lot.”
Schwarting, and his fellow veterinarians, also do monthly pregnancy tests on recently bred cows and heifers, with an ultrasound machine that has a probe. The probe is placed in the animal’s rectum directly over the uterus. The ultrasound machine then transmits images of the uterus onto the goggles of the veterinarian, who will then determine if an embryo is developing.
“You can also sample a sire’s blood and it can help predict how the female offspring will produce. This testing is not a 100-percent accurate, yet, but it’s a very good predictor,” Schwarting said. “You can also obtain AI sexed semen, which will help produce a heifer calf. This is accurate about 85 to 90 percent of the time. These technologies are important to the dairy farmers we serve, because all our dairy farmers raise their own heifer replacements.”
The use of both AI, and DNA testing helps speed up genetic advances in the herds, which rapidly increases milk production.
Schwarting said a few herdsmen milk three times a day, which can gain an average of eight to ten pounds of milk per cow a day, but the dairyman must weigh those advantage against the extra feed consumption per cow and extra labor costs to determine if the practice is profitable.
Noting several young dairy farmers in the area have been discouraged from expanding their current operations, because of over-production and declining milk prices Schwarting said, “Today producers are doing a better job of producing more milk and higher quality milk, with higher butterfat, higher protein and lower bacteria counts.
“I don’t think the dairy industry will change a lot over the next 10 years, except to get more efficient, unless we can find an export market that takes a lot more milk.”